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Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Case Histories is one of those books you pick up because you know you need to read it, but you’re not sure why. W.hen I picked up this book in Hobart’s Book Village (if you’ve never heard of this place and are a book lover, run to the nearest map, and get there quick as you can), it was at first just another book stacked on the others I thought I’d read. Some books got left in Vermont, some got lost in Arizona, but most survived on the move to Ohio. This book was one of them and here’s a slight confession. I’d set it on my shelf next to Frank Smyth’s Cause of Death The Story of Forensic Science and Jack Katz’s Seductions of Crime, and assumed for some months it was a reference book I’d picked up to work on my own detective story.

Happily, my mistake was soon corrected and I found myself reading late into the night. It’s been a while since I’ve read literary detective fiction and Ms. Atkinson did not disappoint. Her Jack Brodie could have a descendant of Sherlock Holmes with a dash of…perhaps, Mickey Spillane or Sam Spade. Divided into three what seem to be unconnected cases, rather than unravel, evidence begins to tie the cases together from a child’s disappearance to an act of murderous violence years apart. There is no serial killer here. Just a set of circumstances that put the characters on paths they did not want nor did they see coming.

The story begins as all good stories do, on a hot, sunny day with four little girls. Running free, playing, laughing, their lives bright before them. Day turns to night and when the lights go out, paths take dramatic turns. Family sagas behind closed doors, secrets locked away and shared, and a shattering reveal to solve two mysteries will definitely keep you up at night.

Years later, two of the sisters return to their family home after the death of their father. They are tied to a place they want to leave but cannot escape, their family mystery buried deep into their childhoods neither of which they really want to talk about much. But when Detective Brodie knocks at their door, their secrets won’t keep for long nor will his. Bold, beautiful, shocking, emotional are just a few of the words that come to mind when I think of this story. This is one of those reads that seeps into your bones and courses through your veins as you watch the scenes unfold.

Her turns of phrase so lyrical it was sometimes a shock to hear of some horrendous act perpetrated but as I reader and a writer I was spellbound. If you’re a mystery fan, and prefer it when you can’t quite guess whodunnit, then this book is for you.

What’s your favorite subgenre of mystery or do you have a favorite author? I”m just beginning to learn detective and mystery writers outside the US. Think Simeon Maigret or Sheila Connolly, and of course Kate Atkinson. Time to check out her 1995 debut novel next, Behind the Scenes at the Museum.

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